On July 1, 2019, many people across Canada gathered to celebrate the 152nd Canada Day. While many well-known Indigenous journalists, academics, and social media critics spent the day deconstructing the “Happy Canada Day” messaging of the government of Canada; few outside Indigenous circles paused to reflect on what it means to say “Happy Canada Day” in 2019. Remember, this is the same year the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls accused Canada of engaging in an ongoing genocide against Indigenous people.
“It is time to call it as it is: Canada’s past and current colonial policies, actions and inactions towards Indigenous Peoples is genocide. And genocide, as per law binding on Canada, demands accountability. The National Inquiry hopes that its legal analysis and findings will contribute to the necessary discussion on genocide in Canada and trigger further research on this characterization of colonial violence, which is a fundamental root cause of the violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people [Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual].”
- “A Legal Analysis of Genocide” Supplementary Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (NIMMIWG) released its final report, “Reclaiming Power and Place” on June 3, 2019, along with several other documents including two supplementary reports, a first on Quebec and a second with a legal analysis of genocide. Also included was a separate document including their “Calls for Justice” which is a list of demands in order to begin to address the issues at stake for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people with the goal of building towards real change.
While there are many mixed feelings about the process of the inquiry, the timeline of the inquiry, and the limited scope of the inquiry – what has gathered the attention of the mainstream media is not the stories of the hundreds Indigenous women and girls that have been murdered or gone missing in Canada. Nor, it is the fact that today in Canada Indigenous women are six times more likely to be murdered than non-Indigenous women (Statistics Canada). Instead, widely-respected bourgeois news outlets across the country were falling over themselves to print editorial pieces about how “genocide” is the wrong term to use against modern-day Canada – in effect attempting to discredit the national inquiry’s work.
What is Genocide?
United Nations Definition from “the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide Article II” states:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Major Newspapers across Canada promote genocide-denial
Below are the titles of the articles published in the name of the full editorial boards of these national newspapers:
• The Saskatoon StarPhoenix & Regina Leader-Post Editorial Boards: “Distraction further dishonours victims” (June 7, 2019) **Spoiler Alert: The use of the word “genocide” is the so-called ‘distraction’
• Toronto Star Editorial Board: “We need a new word: ‘genocide’ isn’t it” (June 6, 2019)
• Globe & Mail Editorial Board: “Is Canada committing genocide? That doesn’t add up” (June 6, 2019)
None of these articles study the definition of Canadian law. The Toronto Star article spends the whole piece pondering what they deem ‘incomparable’ genocides and asks, “Is that a club we want to join? Most importantly, have we thought through the implications?” If the government of Canada’s actions (and inaction) fit the definition of what genocide is, should Canada get to vote on whether it’s guilty? Why are the ‘implications’ the most important? This editorial has no humanity, it sounds like a board of directors afraid of getting sued and trying to protect themselves with lies and a phony public relations campaign rather than deal with the ‘implications’ of Canada’s crimes.
When the Toronto Star finally mentions the internationally accepted legal definition of genocide from the United Nations Charter, they make it clear they never actually bothered to read it. The Star editors write, “But has Canada actually been out to “destroy” Indigenous peoples, as the UN definition of genocide says? The inquiry argues that should include not just physical destruction, but “the destruction of a group as a social unit” with a distinct history, traditions and relationships. By that definition, relocating people or removing children from families could amount to ‘destroying’ them as a people.” But it is not the inquiry’s definition that talks about “removing children”, the UN definition of genocide literally says that “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” is a method of genocide. Did the whole editorial board not bother to read the definition of genocide before writing an article about it?
Indeed, unlike the above-mentioned newspaper editorials, the NIMMIWG investigated the definition of genocide. Their 46-page supplemental report outlines both the UN definition and the definition within Canada’s laws. They point out that, “The Canadian definition relies partly on the international definition […] However, the domestic statute explicitly adds one important element to the definition of genocide: omissions – that is, the failure to act – can constitute genocidal conduct.” It seems that if the editorial boards had bothered to read the report they felt so justified in criticizing, they could have answered a lot of their own ‘questions’. This leads me to wonder if they read the report and then decided to ignore it, or if they did not bother reading the report’s findings at all.
While the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Regina Leader-Post, and Toronto Star editorials were terrible, the most disturbing was the Globe and Mail’s “Is Canada committing genocide? That doesn’t add up.”
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board asks, “Is the commission saying that the deaths of the 38 Indigenous women who, according to Statistics Canada, died by homicide in 2017 should be investigated under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, the law governing genocide? And is there evidence that the federal government is criminally complicit in those deaths, and that the homicides were “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an identifiable group of persons”?’”
Of course, had they taken the time to read the findings of the Inquiry they would not have tried to make such juvenile arguments. For example, the supplemental report on genocide explains, “The insidious and gradual nature of the obliteration of Indigenous peoples, and the lack of a uniform national policy spearheaded by a totalitarian mastermind, differentiate colonial genocide from our traditional understanding of what constitutes a genocide. These distinguishing factors have, unfortunately, allowed the Canadian consciousness to dismiss Canada’s colonial policies as racist and misconceived, rather than acknowledge them as explicitly genocidal and, even, ongoing.”
So no, Toronto Star, the inquiry is not saying that homicides of Indigenous Women and Girls “should be investigated under Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.”
Yes, Toronto Star, the NIMMIWG is saying “there is evidence that the federal government is criminally complicit in those deaths.” Not only that, the 2019 NIMMIWG relied on 98 previous reports that focused on or mentioned violence against Indigenous women in Canada. A select few of the previous reports are outlined in an article for the National Post by journalist, Genna Buck. They stretch all the way back to the Bryce Report of 1907 which sounded the alarm on the health crisis and high death rates in Indian Residential Schools in Canada. The article, “MMIW inquiry drew from 98 earlier reports. The same problems and unrealized solutions echo through them all” explains how previous reports have made similar recommendations to the government of Canada, and little to no action has been taken. If the government has been handed hundreds of recommendations and potential solutions over decades but refuses to act, are they not “criminally complicit”?
The Globe and Mail Editorial Board additionally states, “Part of the problem has been a lackadaisical attitude by police investigators, and the ill-informed belief by past governments that the murders and disappearances were merely a police matter, and not linked to the social ills faced by Indigenous women and Indigenous communities.”
Again, the fact that they use terms like “lackadaisical attitude” means that they not only disagree with the report’s use of the word genocide, but are also disputing the fact that this report and so many past reports have shown that the issues facing Indigenous women and girls are systemic issues, not a few bad apples. Past governments have not been under an “ill-informed belief,” instead they have been handed report after report that has linked the cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women with “the social ills” and systemic inequality they face. The response of those governments has been to actively ignore the recommendations of previous reports.
However the Toronto Star continues asserting, “While Ottawa often moves too slowly to address the many interlinked issues facing Indigenous people – higher rates of poverty and incarceration than non-Indigenous populations, lower rates of high-school completion, a disproportionate likelihood of being the victim of a violent crime, over-representation in foster homes, subpar living conditions on reserves – the policy of the federal government for at least two decades has been one of reconciliation and redress.”
It is not enough to say Prime Minister Harper apologized for residential schools’ genocidal behaviour and Prime Minister Trudeau talks about reconciliation all the time. What have these words meant for the living standards and human rights of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people? Have their murder rates gone down? No! In fact, according to the most recent Statistics Canada reports the rate of homicide against Indigenous women increased by 32% in 2017 from 2016.
What does “reconciliation and redress” mean for prison incarceration rates of Indigenous people? What does it mean for the high-school completion rates of Indigenous people? What does it mean for the life expectancy of Indigenous people? What does it mean for the reserves in Canada who do not have clean drinking water and are under boil-water advisory or do not consume orders?
Where does the Toronto Star get the nerve to talk about two decades of “reconciliation and redress,” when the statistics all point to systemic inequality, violence, and denial of basic human rights for Indigenous nations in Canada?
Why does this matter?
This article has not focused on the inquiry’s “Calls for Justice” or the hundreds of stories collected through the inquiry from families and loved ones of the missing and murdered over the past three years. These are also important areas of research and discussion. Instead, this article is focused on questioning the unresearched and heavily biased role the mainstream capitalist media plays in the discussions about Indigenous issues across Canada. If the average person in Canada relies on these newspapers or news media for their thoughts and opinions, it is almost assured that the national discussion on improving the lives and empowering Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA folks will stall and like after so many other reports, gather dust on a shelf somewhere.
In fact, the inquiry’s “Calls to Justice” have a specific section dedicated to “Media and Social Influencers”. These call for more Indigenous voices to be included in the media. A few mainstream media outlets have made more of an effort. The June 27 edition of the Now Toronto Newspaper boldly reads, “Missing and Murdered: Canada’s Genocide” on the cover and features editorial articles from 3 prominent Indigenous journalists regarding the Inquiry and media backlash. Canadian Lawyer Magazine published, “Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples fits the definition of ‘genocide’” (June 10, 2019), and even the right-wing National Post Newspaper published the article I quoted previously, “MMIW inquiry drew from 98 earlier reports. The same problems and unrealized solutions echo through them all” (June 7, 2019). Of course, these articles are written by individual journalists, not written and approved by the entire editorial board, which is another sort of statement for a publication to make.
In Fire This Time Volume 9 Issue 12 (December 2015) I wrote an article titled, “Spotlight on Val-d’Or Quebec: A case of extreme or everyday injustice for Indigenous women across Canada?”
I wrote about the need for an independent public inquiry into the cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women. I explained, “Of course, an inquiry is not what is going to change the situation for Indigenous women in Canada. That would be wishful thinking. The inquiry is a chance for Aboriginal women and their communities to come together and evaluate the situation they face in Canada and to come up with concrete demands for the government of Canada, the provinces, the territories, the police forces and whoever else they decide needs to be held to account.
This is a chance for Indigenous women and their communities to determine their own future, rather than have it dictated to them by politicians and police who think they know what’s best. Over 200 years of the ‘Canada knows what’s best’ strategy has only succeeded in dehumanizing and marginalizing Indigenous women and their communities. This inquiry is a chance for them to clarify their needs and demands so that they can come together as Indigenous women and so that all allies who believe in social justice and equality across Canada can fight alongside them for their demands.”
Despite any shortcomings of the NIMMIWG, the final report, and the “Calls for Justice” – the decision to state plainly that “Canada’s past and current colonial policies, actions and inactions towards Indigenous Peoples is genocide,” is an important outcome of the inquiry. This means that government inaction is, in fact, killing Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people. If the government of Canada does not work actively towards empowerment and self-determination for Indigenous nations, Canada will continue along its genocidal path.
In his Canada Day speech on July 1, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated, “As a country, it’s important that we celebrate our accomplishments. That we take pride in how far we’ve come. But we can’t forget that Canada did not happen by accident and won’t continue without effort and hard work.” It is very true that Canada did not happen by accident, and neither did its laws and policies towards Indigenous people, nor their devastating consequences. Imperialist Canada’s policies of colonization, assimilation, marginalization, inequality, and denial of basic human rights have not happened and do not continue to happen by accident.
Our responsibility as allies of Indigenous Nations in Canada is to recognize that the attempted colonial genocide against Indigenous people has not ended. Implementing the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; the 231 Calls to Justice from the NIMMIWG; and demanding the government of Canada to abide by its signature on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are all important first steps towards forcing Canada to change its genocidal policies towards Indigenous nations. We must also stand alongside Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people who are under direct, disproportionate, and violent threats by defending their rights and demands for justice and self-determination.
Follow Tamara on Twitter: @THans01
Back to Article Listing